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Fermanagh man's garage doors blown off after car LPG fuel change

Published 25/10/2016

A Fermanagh man woke in the early hours of a winter morning to find that the doors of his garage had been blown off
A Fermanagh man woke in the early hours of a winter morning to find that the doors of his garage had been blown off

A Fermanagh man woke in the early hours of a winter morning to find that the doors of his garage had been blown off.

A court judgment published yesterday revealed that the explosion was so powerful that masonry went flying from Robert Graham's house.

Two cars in the garage were so badly damaged they had to be written off.

The culprit was Mr Graham's second-hand Subaru Impreza, which had been converted to run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

Mr Graham hoped the conversion would save him money on petrol - but instead the explosion caused more than £26,000 worth of damage.

Now, however, a court ruling means he will get his money back from a motor mechanic whose firm carried out the conversion job. Mr Justice Keegan said a safety feature, designed to stop the car's LPG tank being over-filled, had been "overriden".

The disaster came out of the blue after Mr Graham's wife filled up the car with LPG on a chilly winter day.

However, once inside the heated garage, it expanded in the tank and began to leak out of a valve. All that was needed was an electrical spark to ignite the gas and wreak havoc, the judge told the High Court in Belfast.

Mr Graham described waking at 1.30 or 2am on March 11, 2012, "to see his garage doors blown off".

He put out a fire before calling the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and was "thankful" that the garage was detached from his home.

Mr Graham had had the car converted to run on LPG by a local firm - LPG Systems Installations and Vehicle Diagnostics - in 2010. But things went wrong in 2012 when the firm - run by experienced mechanic Peter Domzala - carried out work to increase the capacity of the LPG tank.

A valve was adjusted and that allowed the tank to be filled above its safe 80% limit, leaving too little space for expansion in warm conditions.

Mr Justice Keegan described Mr Graham as "a straightforward and credible" witness and accepted his version of events.

His explanation was supported by expert evidence and the judge rejected claims that faulty maintenance by another mechanic was to blame.

Mr Domzala, who had been installing LPG tanks for 10 years, was ordered to pay more than £26,000 damages, plus interest and legal costs.

LPG can be obtained primarily as propane, butane or a mixture of the two. Propane is the third most widely used motor fuel in the world.

Judgment in the case was given on July 8, but was only published yesterday.

Belfast Telegraph

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